When Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the intelligence committee, promised in 2004 that his committee would investigate how Bush had used (or abused) the prewar intelligence on Iraq’s WMDs–an unkept promise that led to the Democratic shutdown of the Senate this week–he made that promise to me.
Actually, what the Democrats did was not bring the Senate to a halt; much of the media mistakenly reported their action was a shutdown. Instead, the Senate Democrats, deploying the rarely used Rule 21, forced the Senate into a closed session–no TV cameras, no visitors, no reporters–in order to discuss (that is, complain about) Roberts’ failure to produce the so-called Phase II report, which was supposed to examine whether Bush administration officials had misrepresented the prewar intelligence to whip up public support for the invasion of Iraq. With this maneuver, the Democrats cast attention on the GOP attempt to duck this issue, and pushed the Republicans to establish a bipartisan panel that would review the progress (or lack thereof) of the Phase II inquiry. This panel–which is investigating the investigation–is to report back to the rest of the Senate by mid-November.
But back to me. On July 9, 2004, Roberts’ committee released a report on the prewar intelligence. It concluded that the intelligence had been botched and noted that the major conclusions of the intelligence community were “either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence report.” The failure of the intelligence community was obvious in the weeks after the invasion. But what Roberts report did not investigate was whether Bush and his aides had hyped problematic intelligence. For instance, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was produced in October 2002, reported–errantly–that Iraq had an active biological weapons R&D program. Yet Bush in a speech declared that Iraq had “stockpiles” of biological weapons. Having an R&D program is not the same as possessing loads of ready-to-use weapons.
Roberts’ investigation had ignored such exaggerations of the Bush administration. At that press conference, Senator Jay Rockefeller, the senior Democrat on the intelligence committee, pointed this out:
I have to say, that there is a real frustration over what is not in this report, and I don’t think was mentioned in Chairman Roberts’ statement, and that is about the–after the analysts and the intelligence community produced an intelligence product, how is it then shaped or used or misused by the policy-makers?
Roberts indicated that his committee would get to this in a second phase of the investigation, one that would not likely be finished until after the upcoming presidential election. Was that a coincidence? One intelligence committee staffer told me that such an inquiry could be completed within a month or two.